In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Hadith: Shiʿi

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Origins of Shiʿi Hadith
  • Evolution of Shiʿi Hadith
  • Hadith Transmission and Transmitters
  • Textbooks on Shiʿi Hadith Studies
  • Anthologies
  • Search Engines
  • Journals
  • Academic Research Institutions
  • Understanding Hadith (Fiqh al-hadith)
  • Hadith-Based School of Thought
  • Comparative Hadith Studies

Islamic Studies Hadith: Shiʿi
Kumail Rajani
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 February 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 February 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0235


Hadith, according to Imami Shiʿi Islam, is narrative record of a saying, deed, or tacit approval attributed to one of the People of the Household (Ahl al-bayt): fourteen infallibles which include Prophet Muhammad, his daughter Fatima, and twelve rightly guided Imams appointed by the Prophet. Ismaʿili Shiʿa will concur with this definition through their chain of Imams, whereas Zaydi Shiʿa would be more open to embrace the sayings of the Companions. Generally, the chain of narrators of a particular report is supposed to be considered a part of hadith, making hadith a combination of chain of narrators (al-sanad) and text (al-matn). Theoretically, hadith serves the purpose of an auxiliary source to the Qur’an but in practice it is the focal point of reference for jurisprudence, Qur’anic exegesis, theological doctrines, and moral values. The distinct feature of Shiʿi Hadith literature, Zaydis being an exception, is the absence of hadith narrated by a Companion of the Prophet. The core message of the Prophet’s teachings has to be narrated by the Imams, the only custodians of his teachings. However, Imams do have their own teachings which form the basis of the hadith attributed to them. This extension lies in the notion of the cosmic role of Imams in Shiʿi ideology. Soon after the demise of the prophet in 11 AH/ 632 AD, the companions of Imam ʿAli commenced the process of documenting the hadith, which continued until the time of the twelfth Imam in 260 AH/ 873 AD. These traditions recount the early documentation of the sayings of Imams in the alleged four hundred foundational works (al-Uṣūl al-arbaʿumi’a) which then befitted as the source of later Shiʿi Hadith compendia. Unlike Sunni, Shiʿa do not hold these reports to be unquestionable authorities, except a small minority of “Scripturalists (al-Akhbāriyyūn).” However, both parties faced common challenges of dating, transmitting, reliability, and evaluating any hadith. Moreover, the issue of hadith forgery, which prevailed in Shiʿi sources due to the exaggerated notions of the divine status of Imams, couldn’t be neglected. Little attention has been paid to the Shiʿi Hadith studies in Western academia despite of the fact that these far outweigh Sunni Hadith in numbers. Until recently, Shiʿi Hadith used to be discussed in conjunction with the Sunni Hadith but the trend is constantly evolving, especially after some decent contributions by contemporary scholars in this genre of Shiʿi literature.

General Overviews

Shiʿi Hadith has always been discussed as an appendix to the Sunni Hadith literature in Western academic literature However, there are some specific introductory works on Shiʿi Hadith (the word Shiʿa should always refer to the Twelver Imami [Ithnā ʿashariyya] denomination of Shiʿi faith in the entire article unless mentioned otherwise). These works are mostly written by Etan Kohlberg. Kohlberg 1983 unfolds a methodology on how to study early hadith resources. Kohlberg 1987 examines the claim of early Shiʿite scholars in about four hundred foundational (uṣūl) hadith collections and exhibits its fictional nature. Motzki 2004 and Brown 2009 attempt to provide information amid their writings on Sunni Hadith. Haider 2011 studies early ritual law hadith to conclude that they are considerably reliable. Kazemi-Moussavi 2003 sketched out Shiʿi Hadith in a comprehensive article elucidating the subtle differences of Shiʿi and Sunni Hadith. The fundamental premises of the scholarship of Ismaʿili Hadith are outlined in Poonawala 2003, while undoubtedly, the most comprehensive scholarship of Shiʿi Hadith is summed up in Kohlberg 2014.

  • Brown, Jonathan. Hadith: Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World. Oxford: Oneworld, 2009.

    Chapter 4 deals with prophetic traditions in Shiʿi Islam and is a general introduction to Shiʿi Hadith for beginners. It introduces the topic of Shiʿi Hadith criticism and highlights Shiʿi-Sunni Hadith relationships. The chapter fails to provide any data on Ismaʿili Hadith whereas Twelvers and Zaydis are well represented.

  • Haider, Najm. The Origins of the Shīʿa: Identity, Ritual, and Sacred Space in Eighth-Century Kūfa. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511862618

    Although this work mainly focuses on the analysis of the advent of Shiʿi identity, part one is a pathbreaking chapter in proposing a methodology for using the tradition for historical information. Provides vivid descriptions of the content of Imamiyah, Zaydi, and Sunni Hadith.

  • Kazemi-Moussavi, Ahmad. “Hadith in Shiʿism.” In Encyclopaedia Iranica. Vol. 11. Edited by Ehsan Yarshater and Ahmad Ashraf, 447–448. New York: Encyclopaedia Iranica Foundation, 2003.

    A brief informative article on the introduction of various hadith texts, covering a wide range of early texts up to early-21st-century hadith collections. It points out the subtle differences of hadith texts of the then two major hadith centers, namely Qum and Baghdad. Available online.

  • Kohlberg, Etan. “Shīʿī Ḥadīth.” In The Cambridge History of Arabic Literature. Vol. 1, Arabic Literature until the End of the Umayyad Period. Edited by A. F. L. Beeston, 299–307. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

    A succinct introduction to the collection and transmission of Shiʿi Hadith literature. Kohlberg provides a brief description of the corpus of Shiʿi Hadith by examining sources dating back to the first half of the 2nd to the 8th century. The article invites its reader to explore precanonical works for further and more extensive scholarship.

  • Kohlberg, Etan. “Western Studies of Shiʿa Islam.” In Shiʿism, Resistance, and Revolution. Edited by Martin Kramer, 31–44. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1987.

    A cursory look at Shiʿi Hadith in a generic report on what Western academia has contributed to Shiʿi studies from the 12th to the 19th century.

  • Kohlberg, Etan. “Introduction: Shi’i Hadīth.” In The Study of Shiʿi Islam: History, Theology and Law. Papers Originally Delivered at the First International Colloquium Dedicated Exclusively to Shi’i Studies, Held in 2010 at The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London. Edited by Farhad Daftary and Gurdofarid Miskinzoda, 165–179. The Institute of Ismaili Studies. London: I.B. Tauris, 2014.

    A seminal and thoroughly updated to the early 21st century introduction to Shiʿi Hadith inclusive of Twelvers, Zaydis, and Ismaʿilis. The footnotes provide a wide range of rich resources for a reader. The writer does not shy from quoting the young emerging scholars of this field. A must-read for anyone studying Shiʿi Hadith.

  • Motzki, Harald. “Introduction.” In Ḥadīth: Origins and Developments. Edited by Harald Motzki, 13–63. Aldershot, UK: Variorum, 2004.

    Although the entire introduction pertains to Sunni Hadith, a small section on non-Sunni Hadith and its footnotes is well worth considering, as it prompts questions which serve the purpose of motivation and encouragement for early students of this field.

  • Poonawala, Ismail K. “Hadith in Ismaʿilism.” In Encyclopaedia Iranica. Vol. 11. Edited by Ehsan Yarshater and Ahmad Ashraf, 449–451. New York: Encyclopaedia Iranica Foundation, 2003.

    A succinct introduction to the Ismaʿili Hadith literature. The discussion on why and how the literature emerged in Fatamid era is well explained. The reader may get confused about drawing a distinct line between Ismaʿili jurisprudence and Ismaʿili Hadith while reading this introduction. Available online.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.